The 2016 election has come and gone, but the issues facing us as a nation remain just as real and intractable as they were a month ago. Elections focus our attention. They fire up our emotions. But the real work of applying our Catholic faith to building a culture of life happens between our trips to the voting booth.
This week Catholics have an opportunity to wash away the grime and heavy feelings of a bitterly difficult campaign season. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday with deep religious roots. And this weekend, the First Sunday of Advent opens the new Church year. It’s a chance to begin again; a time to examine our hearts in the light of the Gospel, repent of our sins and look for the coming of our Savior.
We can’t really experience or understand Christmas unless we first conform our hearts to a spirit of gratitude, and then to the longing of Advent.
In a world so often marked by suffering and want, God has blessed Americans with a wide range of freedoms and extraordinary material abundance, both as a nation and as individuals. No one “owes” us this abundance, and our civil and religious liberties are rare on the global scale. Other people around the world work just as hard as we do, or harder, and receive far less from life. Many also suffer a high degree of religious and political oppression.
Thanksgiving Day is a good time to remember the message of Scripture: To whom much is given, from them much will be required (Lk 12:48). We Americans have the privilege to turn our hearts to God in gratitude and peace, but we also have God’s invitation to share our abundance with those who have less than we do.
Advent, meanwhile, calls us all to refocus our lives on God’s promise of deliverance and the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus Christ, our Deliverer — who came to us first in Bethlehem, comes to us today in the Eucharist, and will come again at the end of time.
As we heard again and again over the last year, our Catholic faith, if it’s genuine, must have consequences, first in our private lives, then in our public witness. If we really believe in the coming of a Messiah, our lives will reflect that in the way we treat our families, our friends and business colleagues, the poor, the unborn child, the homeless and the suffering.
Real faith will drive us to live our lives in a spirit of humility, hope and courage, as Mary of Nazareth did. It will also guide us to press our leaders, of both political parties, for laws and social policies that respect the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death.
Jesus, his mother and his foster father Joseph knew the reality of poverty firsthand. They knew the fear of being without shelter; of being hunted by enemies and being “strangers in a strange land” as refugees in Egypt. As I suggested in my column last week, millions of immigrants in our own country — many of them undocumented; many with families; the vast majority hard-working and innocent of any violent crime — feel that same uncertainty and vulnerability. That’s why decency toward the undocumented immigrants among us is so urgently necessary, and so in need of Catholic involvement.
But immigration, and especially the plight of undocumented families, is only one of a dozen or more of the pressing issues which now face our country and which cry out for prayer and action by Christians — in that order. All genuinely Catholic social action is never simply “humanitarian.” Rather, it always begins and ends in the worship of Jesus Christ, the center and meaning of human history.
Thus, if we really want to change the world, we need to start in silence by saying “yes” to God as Mary did. We can only begin a deep and lasting revolution with our own conversion of heart; with our own obedience to God using Mary as our model.
We have a lot to pray for and to do in the coming months. But let’s start this week by anchoring our observance of Thanksgiving and Advent in the God who gives us life and surrounds us with his sustaining love.
So may God bless all of us this Thanksgiving and Advent, and bring us to the joy of Christmas.